Scripting Revolution
A Historical Approach to the Comparative Study of Revolutions
Edited by Keith Michael Baker and Dan Edelstein


Contents and Abstracts
1 Did the English Have a Script for Revolution in the Seventeenth Century?
chapter abstract

This chapter examines the various resonances the word revolution held in seventeenth-century England. When used in a political context, it rarely meant turning full cycle or returning to the status quo ante, but rather a sudden and dramatic change, a turning quite around, or a regime change. The English commonly used the term revolution (or its plural revolutions) to refer to the political and religious upheavals of the period, and although revolutions did not necessarily have to involve fundamental or radical change, they could do, and by the end of the century there had emerged the notion that these revolutions had been beneficial and desirable because they had delivered England (and Scotland and Ireland) from tyranny. England's script for revolution was linked to the question of how to bring about the desired regime change and thus whether it was possible to resist a monarchy that was deemed absolute.

2 God's Revolutions: England, Europe, and the Concept of Revolution in the mid-Seventeenth Century
chapter abstract

This chapter explores the early use of the word and concept of "revolution" as deployed during the English Civil Wars and Interregnum. The politicized usage of the word was chiefly adapted from continental sources, reflecting both intensifying parallel political conflicts in several parts of Europe, and increasingly efficient networks for the transnational dissemination of news and information. After the regicide in 1649, the term "revolution" appeared with growing frequency in England, as contemporaries groped for a new vocabulary to describe the churning constitutional instability and change that plagued their polity. Although used in several ways, the word was appropriated with particular enthusiasm by radical puritan republicans, who often invoked it to describe God's providential disruption of established forms and constitutional order.

3 Every Great Revolution is a Civil War
chapter abstract

The conceptual categories of 'revolution' and 'civil war' are as contested as they are porous. This essay argues that the modern 'script' of revolution was not as original as some scholars have claimed. As a narrative of the violent and transformative reorganization of sovereignty, the revolutionary script developed after 1789 had morphological and genealogical similarities to an earlier and much more enduring script of political change: the Roman script of civil war. The essay traces the various narratives derived in classical and post-classical texts from the Roman experience of civil war and shows how Roman conceptions of civil war shaped later narratives of revolution. It concludes that civil war was the original genus of which revolution was only a late-evolving species.

4 Revolutionizing Revolution
chapter abstract

This chapter draws on digitized databases and other materials to investigate meanings of the term "revolution" and its cognates in English, American, and French imprints in the century between the Glorious Revolution and the French Revolution. It traces a shift from the notion of revolution as a fact, an expression of change and vicissitude generally recognized ex post facto, to a conception of revolution as a collective political act oriented toward the future. It points to the role of Enlightenment thinking in the revalorization of revolution as long term transformation and, more particularly, to the significance of Raynal'sRévolution de l'Amériquein narrativizing revolution as immediate and ongoing political action. It concludes by examining the emergence of a revolutionary script in the French Revolution.

5 Constitutionalism: The Happiest Revolutionary Script
chapter abstract

Two "stories" provide the essential script for the major aspects of the American Revolution. One script is a story of colonial resistance to imperial policies. Here the Americans followed familiar arguments about the careful yet calculated ways in which "a long train of abuses" could lead an unjustly governed people to assert their rights, including a right to revolution, against the threat of tyranny. The second story is about the remarkable way in which Americans worked out the central problems of constitution making in the decade after independence. This story provides an ideal happy ending to the complicated dynamics of revolution, by solving problems few other revolutions have mastered.

6 From Constitutional to Permanent Revolution: 1649 and 1793
chapter abstract

In early-modern times, the telos of revolution was generally perceived as the ratification of a new constitution. Constitutions provided the foundation for the political authority of the new regime; they derived their own legitimacy as expressions of popular sovereignty. This revolutionary theory was first enacted during the English Civil War; it culminated with the American Revolution. The French Revolution started off during this same path, but in the years 1792-94, a new model of revolution emerged. In a dizzying circuit, it made "revolution" the new source of authority for the revolution, and eschewed constitutionalism for what later theorists (starting with Marx) would refer to as the "permanence" of revolution. This new, future-oriented model could legitimate actions undertaken by the State, rather than just a revolutionary people.

7 Scripting the French Revolution, Inventing the Terror: Marat's Assassination and Its Interpretations
chapter abstract

Despite the deconstruction since the 1960s of many of its dominant historiographical discourses, the French Revolution remains hostage to a script that distinguishes it from contemporary European and American sister revolutions: the myth of the Terror, according to which the Jacobins instituted a centralized dictatorship in Paris, in the hands of Robespierre, and exercised a systematic violence against its opponents. Marat's assassination is a prime example of how pivotal events of the Revolution were immediately integrated into systems of representation and contributed to the construction of the most enduring scripts. By radicalizing and opposing in a Manichean manner the positions of the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary actors, the numerous discourses and emotions surrounding the violent death of l'Ami du peuple thereby participated in forging the simplifying myth of the Terror, producing a distorted image of France, split between a dictatorship of public safety, external war, and civil war.

8 The Antislavery Script: Haiti's Place in the Narrative of Atlantic Revolution
chapter abstract

The notion that free people of color and slaves in Saint-Domingue might have been acting out a drama first performed elsewhere has a long and troubling history. This essay considers the two most oft-mentioned precedents (the American and French revolutions) and finds that neither explains the manner of Haiti's path out of the Old Regime. Revolutionary-era influences must be balanced against prior experiences and understandings of slavery and racial subordination, including those embodied in colonial law. Such an approach helps to clarify the ambiguities of emancipation as it ultimately took form in Haiti, where liberation from slavery was obscured by the imperatives of independence from France. The very nations that sought to contain Haiti's example would later struggle with their own variations on this Haitian theme.

9 Scripting the German Revolution: Marx and 1848
chapter abstract

TheCommunist Manifestowas treated by generations of Marxists as an example of scientific class analysis and materialist conception of history. When it was written, it was intended as a set of formulations addressed to a radical German readership. This essay sets theManifestoin the context of previous attempts to characterise the situation of Germany after the French Revolution. Despite the transformative importance of the achievements of German philosophy in the preceding eighty years, the political reality of Germany was disappointing: a docile and obedient people unaffected by the 1830 revolutions in neighbouring countries. After attempting to sketch a German route to revolution in 1844, Marx and his friends left Germany and adopted an abstract and universal discourse embracing the whole of the modern world. The resultingManifesto conjured up a largely imaginary conflict between fabricated entities and proved to be of little value in confronting events in 1848.

10 Reading and Repeating the Revolutionary Script: Revolutionary Mimicry in Nineteenth-Century France
chapter abstract

"Reading and Repeating the Revolutionary Script: Revolutionary Mimicry in Nineteenth-Century France"examines the emergence, transformation, and cultural and political effects of the"discourse of revolutionary mimicry" in nineteenth-century France. First, a reading of Gustave Flaubert's 1869 novelL'Education sentimentaleillustrates how fears regarding the reading and repeating of revolutionary scripts existed not only the political, but also the literary sphere during the Second Empire (1852-1870). The chapter then considers the political effects of this discourse upon the Paris Commune of 1871 and how it directly influenced the day-to-day decisions and actions of the Communards. Together, these analyses strongly suggest that the post-1848 discourse of revolutionary mimicry served to de-legitimize unambiguously positive or romantic conceptions of "revolution," ultimately shaping how nineteenth-century revolutions were not only represented and judged, but also how they were actually performed.

11 "Une Révolution Vraiment Scientifique": Russian Terrorism, the Escape from the European Orbit, and the Invention of a New Revolutionary Paradigm
chapter abstract

For the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia, terrorism, or the "terrorist revolution," came to trump the revolutionary script that had been received from the West over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This chapter explains when and why this exchange happened, as well as what made it thinkable. In doing so, the chapter places a special emphasis on the various ways the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia understood history and historical time. The chapter first traces the history of the idea of revolution in Russia, then analyzesthe emergence of the "terrorist revolution" in a set of political proclamations and manifestos from the mid to late nineteenth century, and ends with some conclusions about the ways in which terrorism allowed Russians to theorize an escape from the European revolutionary paradigm.

12 Scripting the Russian Revolution
chapter abstract

The Russian Revolution witnessed competing and overlapping scripts that contained fundamentally divergent projections of revolutionary change. This chapter outlines the main scripts within the liberal, moderate socialist, extreme left, national, and popular traditions. Historians usually prioritize intellectuals and their visions as driving the agenda of the Russian revolution. It is clear, however, that it was the radical consequences of the people's program of, for example, land distribution from below that pushed Russian politics to the far left, affecting each of the major scripts. It was precisely a peculiar intersection of peasant aspirations and extreme left discourse that produced a triumphant Bolshevik outcome. This hybrid script was riddled with contradictions that isolated and undermined Soviet communism.

13 You Say You Want a Revolution: Revolutionary and Reformist Scripts in China, 1894-2014
chapter abstract

Chinese reformers and revolutionaries have long looked for inspiration to various parts of the world, as well as to China's own past, when carving out positions and seeking support for their stance on how the country needed to and could be best changed. Focusing particular on two periods, around the turn of the last two centuries, this chapter compares and contrasts such things as the significance that Japan's Meiji Restoration and the American and French events of 1776 and 1789, respectively, had for reformers, who sought to maintain some kind of imperial system, and revolutionaries, who sought to establish a republic in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Similarities but also differences between the reform vs. revolution debate then and that of recent decades are also discussed.

14 Mao's Little Red Book: The Spiritual Atom Bomb and Its Global Fallout
chapter abstract

This chapter explores the metaphor of Mao Zedong Thought as a "spiritual atom bomb," an idea expressed in Lin Biao's famous foreword to the Little Red Book (Quotations from Chairman Mao). By relating this metaphor to other concepts found in the Little Red Book, the chapter argues that Maoism was an expression of and a response to existential anxieties of the atomic age. The discussion proceeds from an exegesis of "The Foolish Old Man Who Moved the Mountains" to the role of voluntarism in the strategy and tactics of people's war; explains the weaponization of ideology and Cultural Revolution ideal of spiritual fission, or the struggle against one's own subjectivity; addresses Maoist denigration of the physical atom bomb as a "paper tiger"; and presents Mao's alternative view of postcolonial global power in the Theory of Three Worlds.

15 The Reel, Real and Hyper-Real Revolution: Scripts and Counter-Scripts in Cuban Documentary Film
chapter abstract

Focused on the work of the black Communist filmmaker Nicolás Guillén Landrián from the mid-1960s through the early 1970s, this chapter argues that the Cuban government interpreted visual, racial and cultural critiques of revolutionary policies as endangering both national security and citizens' trust in the absolute victory of the Revolution over the past. Charged with documenting change and narrating national progress, Guillén Landrián broke with standard techniques meant to guide viewers' understanding of lived reality through "hyper-real" (that is, bigger-and-better-than-life) representations of events by refusing to engage in state-generated scripts, especially the formulaic stories and formats typical of the government-controlled media. For his boldness, Guillén Landrían suffered imprisonment, forced labor and ultimately electro-shock treatments meant to nullify his ability to challenge or disrupt oficial metanarratives, especially those authored by "Commander-in-Chief" Fidel Castro.

16 Writing on the Wall: 1968 as Event and Representation
chapter abstract

The global upheaval of the Sixties marked a significant transition in scripts of revolution, for which 1968 was both a pivotal year and a trenchant symbol. Contemporaneous consideration of the category of "event" itself, notably by French critical thinkers, emphasized the open-ended and anti-systematic qualities of happenings that year. Since then, endless debate on the multiple meanings and experiences of "1968" has confirmed its representational plurality. Together, reflection on the events and representations of 1968 helps us understand the historic shift from an earlier monolithic notion of violent revolution to new models of pluralistic non-revolutionary social contestation.

17 Scripting a Revolution: Fate or Fortuna in the 1979 Revolution in Iran
chapter abstract

Was the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran part of a divine script, mandated in heaven? Was it a foreign conspiracy by Britain, US, Communists, Seven Sisters? All of the above? Was the Shah's indecision, or his cancer the cause of his downfall? Was the 1979 revolution inevitable, and if so, was Ayatollah Khomeini's eventual hegemony no less unavoidable? "Scripting a Revolution: Fate or Fortuna in the 1979 Revolution in Iran" offers a critical sketch of these scenarios while attempting to map out the endogenous and exogenous factors that contributed to the "perfect storm" that was the revolution of 1979 – as much the result of mangled social engineering as the unintended consequence of utopian ideologies.

18 The Multiple Scripts of the Arab Revolutions
chapter abstract

This chapter examines the scripts of the Arab revolutions. It argues that, unlike many previous revolutionary movements where ideological debates occurredwithina largely shared revolutionary worldview, such debates during the so-called Arab Spring occurredbetweendifferent revolutionary groups over contradictory visions of the future political system. The chapter then examines the Egyptian and Yemeni revolutions and argues that the different revolutionary groups – secularists, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Salafis – briefly set aside their ideological differences in order to achieve a common goal and overthrow the regime; but, once this was achieved, the fissures between them led to continuing conflict. Finally, the chapter considers how, despite these contradictions and conflicts, the failure for any single revolutionary group to claim revolutionary authority over others may make it possible for genuine popular sovereignty to succeed inadvertently.

Afterword: Afterword
chapter abstract

The article returns to the themes raised by the editors in the Introduction, analyzing why social scientific approaches have generally prevailed over hermeneutic ones in the comparative study of revolutions. It summarizes the main contributions of the volume, raises questions about the nature of political "scripts," and speculates about various common factors in the "scripts" analyzed in the volume, including appeals to the emotions, the suspension of ordinary constitutional rules, and intellectuals as political actors.